All that buildup for this? “The Walking Dead’s” mid-sixth season finale could have paid off what’s been a frustrating several weeks, with the show trumping up phony suspense over Glenn’s non-death to push us through a series of wheel-spinning episodes. But although “Start to Finish” isn’t lacking in events — opening with the falling clock tower taking out Alexandria’s zombie-proof fence and a horde of walkers swarming the once-peaceful stronghold starts things off with a bang — so few of them came to any kind of resolution that it was hard not to feel cheated: It was all start, no finish. The one genuinely exciting cliffhanger, a season 6.5 “prologue” teasing the arrival of comics villain Negan, was delayed all the way to “Into the Badland’s” first commercial break, a promotional stunt that just underlined how much of this season has been built on cheap, inorganic suspense. Killing off Tovah Feldshuh’s Deanna was the very opposite of surprising, a mere formality considering how long Alexandria’s idealistic leader has been obviously marked for death, and underlining for approximately the one millionth time that Rick Is Always Right. Perhaps the most hilarious illustration of that principle came when Carl and Ron face off over the latter’s death at Rick’s hands. “I get it,” Carl says, as Ron shakily points a gun at him. “My dad killed your dad. But you need to know something — your dad was an asshole.” (If there’s a more “Walking Dead” sentence than “I get it, my dad killed your dad” I am hard-pressed to come up with one.)
So many of the half-season-long plot threads that came to their conclusion in “Start to Finish” did so in the most predictable way possible. Carol and Morgan’s face-off over whether it’s okay to kill in the name of self-preservation ended up with Carol, just like Rick, once again proven right: As they argued over whether or not to put a capture Wolf to death, he got loose from his bonds and knocked them out, taking Merritt Weaver’s Denise as a human shield. Glenn was, if not reunited with Maggie, at least reassured that she’s still alive.
Many critics pointed out that the shenanigans around Glenn’s death have left “The Walking Dead” with a major credibility problem. While we’re fairly certain that Deanna is done for, we don’t actually see her die, and although there’s a brief moment of suspense as Maggie scrambles up a ladder to escape the horde, we know the chances of her actually getting caught are less than zero. Given his association with one of the comic book’s most iconic deaths, Negan’s arrival could mean that the main characters’ invulnerability shields might finally be punctured. But for now, it feels like they’re all too safe, and the only ones who might die are the ones we don’t care about.
Reviews of “The Walking Dead,” Season 6, Episode 8: “Start to Finish”
Todd VanDerWerff, Vox
When “The Walking Dead” was at the height of its “can you believe that?!” power, it was killing off characters left and right. Dale and Shane (remember those guys?) died an episode apart. Lori took a little longer but died in deeply sad fashion in episode four of season three, when no one was expecting it. Even in seasons four and five, the show could find a character or two to kill or write out in a way that would underline the stakes of the series. When Carol seemed to leave the show for a while in season four, it still felt like it might be permanent, and when, say, Beth died as recently as season five, it was both surprising and inevitable — the very best kind of TV death. But with Glenn’s improbable survival, the show has thrown a lot of that out the window. Tell me honestly: Were you at all scared that Maggie was going to die when she dangled above that pit of zombies? How about when Rick and the crew wandered out into the horde of zombies to make it to the armory? No? Me neither. The tease of Negan in the post-episode scene suggests that actual stakes may return to the show at some point — but that raises the idea that only the characters who’ve been hurt in the comics can be hurt on the show, something the series has never abided by.
Kevin Fitzpatrick, ScreenCrush
Honestly, this whole hour felt like a mess, moreso beyond the season’s clumsy return of Glenn and Enid, who themselves manage to do… absolutely nothing within the confines of the finale. Glenn gives Enid another pep talk, and they climb a tree in search of a way in. That’s a huge problem structurally, in that the time spent on their return served no purpose for an already-stuffed cliffhanger, time that might better have been spent on characters we didn’t see, like Spencer, or the other surviving Alexandrians. After all, considering Deanna’s final wisdom to Rick that the Alexandrians were his people now, it’s especially odd that we didn’t see any of them in the conflict, alive or dead.
Jeremy Egner, New York Times
The breaching of the walls and immediate aftermath was evocatively shot and intense, with pregnant Maggie scampering precariously up a ladder and Rick and Deanna paired up in leadership one last time. (I do appreciate that Deanna didn’t magically turn into a crack shot.) But after everyone made it inside, the assault stalled out somewhat. Sure, there were occasional walker advances into Jessie’s house to keep things interesting but on balance, the show felt like it was already looking ahead to the back half of the season.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
Now, I don’t need to see “Walking Dead” characters die every week. If anything, this show and “Game of Thrones” have pushed TV drama’s death obsession to an extreme, and “Walking Dead” has whacked enough regulars over the years that new deaths tend to have less impact unless they’re done with a higher degree of effort and artistry than is the norm. But when you drop one of your main characters into a zombie mosh pit and let him literally crawl away unscathed, and then when you send a few hundred zombies roaming through your new post-apocalyptic paradise and only bump off the old lady whose entire family has been cannon fodder since they first appeared? When you can’t even bring yourself to murder Father Gabriel, whom no one in the audience or on the series likes? Then you aren’t just undermining the illusion of life and death stakes; you’re actively telling the audience not to worry about this or any future peril in which our heroes find themselves. You’re just inviting the audience to stand around, slack-jawed, like Rick and the gang on Jessie’s porch, marveling at the spectacle but untouched by any of it.
Zack Handlen, A.V. Club
This was an empty, calorie- free hour of television, providing no new information, and failing to deliver much on thrills or character development. After seven episodes of rising calamity, the dam finally bursts, and nothing much comes of it. Oh sure, Deanna is dead and Morgan and Carol are probably going to have words later on. (Maybe Rick will banish Morgan or something, I dunno.) I hope Dr. Denise is okay. But I’m not much concerned about Rick and his group making their way to the armory clad in zombie guts, no matter how many times Sam says, “Mommy?” There was so much stalling going on, and we end with nearly every situation in doubt, with no sense of closure to help drive us forward to the next crisis.
Jeff Stone, Indiewire
Considering that so much of Rick’s story this season has been his reluctance to work with the Alexandrians (and vice versa), it’s a let down that none of that comes through this episode. Sure, Deanna tells Rick late in the episode that he needs to start treating everyone like they’re all “his people,” but it’s just telling over showing. And considering how little actually happens this episode, it seems like a missed opportunity. Surely someone other than the core cast could have been stuck in the Andersons’ house with Rick? Of course, a show with a cast this big has to service the characters it already has before it can start expanding, but this episode makes it seem like the Ricketeers are the only ones in the town, while everyone else was out getting groceries or something. It’s a noticeable absence, especially with Alexandria itself under attack. It’s like that episode where everyone mentioned Carol, but we never saw her, but with a whole town.
Noel Murray, Rolling Stone
For some “Walking Dead” fans, this may seem an insufficient way to go into the break, after an arc that started strong and then spun its wheels for a while — throughout which arguments raged on-line over whether the clumsily handled fake-out “death” of Glenn would be a permanent dealbreaker. But divorced from all the external conversations about the series as a whole, this one individual chapter is actually pretty strong. Yes, it offers more cliffhangers than resolutions; no, it doesn’t catch us up on where all the characters are. (Daryl? Abraham? Sasha? All absent until the post-credits tag…more on that in a bit.) But it’s incredibly tense throughout, and aided by several images just as loaded as that opening shot of insects swarming.